For anyone who has wanted to hear about the videopoem or poetryfilm, Steep (1): A digital poetry of gold nanoparticles, that I presented at the 2015 International Symposium on Electronic Arts (ISEA) in Vancouver, your wait is over. From the Canadian Academy of Independent Scholars Nov. 7, 2016 announcement (received via email),
Date: Thursday, November 17th, 2016 Time: 7:30 pm Place: Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, BC Campus, 515 West Hastings Street (between Seymour and Richards Streets) in the Diamond Lounge Speaker: Maryse de la Giroday Topic: A digital poetry of gold nanoparticles: a Steep art/science project
An object of desire, the stuff of myth and legend, and a cross-cultural icon, gold is now being perceived in a whole new way at the nanoscale where its properties and colour undergo a change. Increasingly used as a component in biomedical applications, gold nanoparticles are entering the environment (air, soil, and water). ‘Steep (1): A digital poetry of gold nanoparticles’ is a short videopoem exploring the good and the bad about gold at the macroscale and at the nanoscale.
Presented at the 2015 International Symposium on Electronic Arts, the Steep (1) videopoem is an art/sci collaboration between Maryse de la Giroday (science writer and poet) from Canada and Raewyn Turner (video artist) from New Zealand. In addition to a look at the video, the presentation offers an inside perspective on incorporating science, poetry, and video in an art/sci piece. As well, there’ll be some discussion regarding one or more of Maryse’s and Raewyn’s current art/sci projects.
Maryse de la Giroday writes and publishes the largest, independent, science blog in Canada. Her main focus is nanotechnology (the Canadian kind when she can find it). She has also written several pieces for local visual arts magazine, Preview. Maryse holds an undergraduate Communications (honours) degree from Simon Fraser University and a Master’s degree (Creative Writing and New Media) from De Montfort University (UK). (Unfortunately, Raewyn will either be in New Zealand or on the US East Coast and unable to attend.)
Part 1 concerned the soon-to-be-released movie, Hidden Figures and a film which has yet to start production, Photograph 51 (about Rosalind Franklin and the discovery of the double helix structure DNA [deoxyribonucleic acid]). Now for Part 2:
A matter of blood, Theranos, and Elizabeth Holmes
A few months ago, a friend asked me if I’d heard of Theranos. Given that I have featured various kinds of cutting edge diagnostic tests here, it was a fair enough question. Some of my first questions to her were about the science. My friend had read about the situation in The Economist where the focus of the story (which I later read) was about venture capital. I got back to my friend and said that if they hadn’t published any scientific papers, I most likely would not have stumbled across them. Since then I’ve heard much more about Theranos but it seems there’s not much scientific information to be had from the company.
Reportedly, US film star Jennifer Lawrence is set to star, from a June 10, 2016 posting by Lainey (at Lainey Gossip; Note: A link has been removed),
Deadline reported yesterday [June 9, 2016] that Jennifer Lawrence will star in Adam McKay’s upcoming film about Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos. Elizabeth Holmes was basically the Jennifer Lawrence of Silicon Valley after inventing what she claimed to be a revolutionary blood testing system. Instead of submitting full vials of blood for limited testing, her product promised more efficiency and quicker results with just a pinprick. You can imagine how that would change the health care industry.
Last year, The Wall Street Journal investigated the viability of Theranos’s business plan, exposing major problems in the company’s infrastructure. Elizabeth Holmes went from being called the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire, the millennial in a turtleneck, to a possible fraud. It’s a fascinating story. …
FIRST they think you’re crazy, then they fight you, and then all of the sudden you change the world,” said Elizabeth Holmes as troubles mounted for her blood-testing startup, Theranos, last year. Things look ever less likely to go beyond the fighting stage.
On July 7th  a government regulator, the Centres for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said Ms Holmes would be barred from owning or running a laboratory for two years. It will also revoke her company’s licence to operate one of two laboratories where it conducts tests. As The Economist went to press the firm was due to reply to a letter from Congress, which asked how, exactly, Theranos is going to handle the tens of thousands of patients who were given incorrect test results. Even so, Ms Holmes looks set to remain in position even as the situation deteriorates around a firm that once commanded a multi-billion-dollar valuation.
These may be some of the last twists in a story which will be turned into a Hollywood film by the director of “The Big Short”.
For anyone wondering how a movie could be made when the story has come to any kind of resolution, there’s this from a June 24, 2016 posting by David Bruggeman for his Pasco Phronesis blog (Note: Links have been removed),
Since last I wrote about a possible film about the medical device/testing company Theranos, a studio has successfully bid on the project. Legendary Studios won an auction on the film rights, beating out 9 other offers on the project, which has Jennifer Lawrence attached to star as Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes. Adam McKay would write the script and direct the project, duplicating his roles on the Oscar-nominated film The Big Short. The film now has a preliminary title of Bad Blood. It is certainly too early to tell if the Taylor Swift song of the same name will be used in the movie.
While getting a studio offer is important to the film getting produced, what is perhaps as interesting to our readers is that a book is connected to the film deal. Two-time Pulitzer-prize winning writer John Carreyrou, who has written extensively on Theranos in The Wall Street Journal, will be writing a book that (presumably) serves as the basis for the script. This follows the development arc for The Big Short, for which McKay shares an Adapted Screenplay Oscar (in addition to his nomination for directing the film)
Theranos once promised to revolutionize the blood testing industry. But its methodology remains secretive, despite calls for transparency from the scientific community. Now, it is facing federal investigations, private litigation, voided tests, and its CEO, Elizabeth Holmes, is banned from operating a lab for two years.
But all that was entirely glossed over today at the company’s much-awaited first presentation to the scientific community at the American Association for Clinical Chemistry’s conference in Philadelphia.
In an hour-long presentation (you can review the slides here), Holmes failed to discuss the fate of the company’s proprietary blood-testing technology, Edison, or address any of the controversy. Instead, she skipped right to pitching a new product, dubbed the MiniLab.
In fairness to Theranos, this was a positive step as the company did provide some internal data to show that the company could perform a small number of tests. But despite that, many took to social media to protest its failure to address and acknowledge its shortcomings before moving on to a new product.
“Clearly, the scientific and medical community was hoping for a data-driven discussion today, and instead got a new product announcement,” says John Torous, a psychiatrist and clinical informatics fellow at Harvard Medical School.
In an emailed response to Fast Company, a Theranos company spokesperson did not say whether components of Edison would be used in the miniLAB, but instead stressed that it’s one early iteration of the technology. “The miniLab is the latest iteration of the company’s testing platform and an evolution of Theranos’ technology,” they said.
Farr describes the MiniLab and notes that it is entering a competitive market,
The new product, the MiniLab, essentially takes equipment used in a standard lab and puts it in a single box. Holmes refers to this technique as “decentralizing the lab,” as in theory, clinicians could use this as an alternative to sending samples to a centralized facility and awaiting results. “Think of it as being a huge diagnostics lab that has been condensed down to the size of a microwave,” the company’s website explains.
But scientists are questioning whether the MiniLab technology is a breakthrough. The current market is already fairly saturated: Abbott’s iStat system, for instance, is a handheld device for clinicians to test patients for a plethora of common tests. Roche just received FDA [US Food and Drug Administration] clearance for its Cobas device, which can test for ailments like the flu and some strep infections in under 20 minutes. And Theranos competitors Quest and Labcorp already operate versions of this type of equipment in their own labs.
“I can’t imagine why they’re wasting their time,” says MIT-trained material scientist and biotech entrepreneur Kaveh Milaninia by phone. …
I recommend reading Farr’s article in its entirety as she provides more detail and analysis as to just how competitive the market Theranos proposes entering with its MiniLab actually is.
Theranos is withdrawing its bid for FDA approval of a diagnostic test for Zika that they announced earlier in August, according to a story in the Wall Street Journal.
Theranos confirmed to Business Insider that the test has been withdrawn, but said the company has plans to resubmit it.
John Carreyrou and Christopher Weaver report that an FDA inspection found that, as part of a study to validate the new test, the company had collected some data without a patient safety plan in place that was approved by an institutional review board.
“We hope that our decision to withdraw the Zika submission voluntarily is further evidence of our commitment to engage positively with the agency. We are confident in the Zika tests and will resubmit it,” Theranos vice president of regulatory and quality Dave Wurtz said in a statement emailed to Business Insider. Wurtz joined the company in July .
Getting back to the point of my story at the beginning of this piece, it seems that Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes have not been as forthcoming with scientific data as is common in the biotech field. Interestingly, I read somewhere that the top 10 venture capitalists in the biotech field had not invested a penny in Theranos. The money had come from venture capitalists expert in other fields. (If you can confirm or know differently, please let me know in the comments section.)
In its favour, the company does appear to be attempting to address its shortcomings.
*ETA Oct. 6, 2016: Theranos is closing down some of its labs according to an Oct. 6, 2016 news item on phys.org,
Theranos, a onetime star Silicon Valley startup focused on health technology, is closing its consumer blood-testing facilities amid its struggles with US regulators.
The company, which has been seeking to disrupt the medical testing sector with new technology, said the closings will mean cutting some 340 jobs.
“After many months spent assessing our strengths and addressing our weaknesses, we have moved to structure our company around the model best aligned with our core values and mission,” company founder Elizabeth Holmes said in an open letter.
Theranos, which touts a new way of testing that uses far less blood and delivers faster results at much lower cost than traditional methods in US labs, has been under civil and criminal investigation over its claims.
Holmes said the company would focus on a so-called miniLab which can be commercialized with partners.
Things don’t look good.*
In any event, all these goings on should make for an interesting script writing challenge.
Bits and bobs of science and movies (The Man Who Knew Infinity, Ghostbusters, and Imagine Science Films)
The Man Who Knew Infinity had its debut at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival. I haven’t seen it at any movie houses here (Vancouver, Canada) yet but a film trailer featuring its star, Dev Patel, was released in Feb. 2016,
Ramanujan must have been quite the mathematician, given the tenor of the times. Here’s more about the movie from its Wikipedia entry (Note: Links have been removed),
The Man Who Knew Infinity is a 2015 British biographical drama film based on the 1991 book of the same name by Robert Kanigel. The film stars Dev Patel as the real-life Srinivasa Ramanujan, a mathematician who after growing up poor in Madras, India, earns admittance to Cambridge University during World War I, where he becomes a pioneer in mathematical theories with the guidance of his professor, G. H. Hardy (played by Jeremy Irons despite Hardy being only 10 years older than Ramanujan).
Filming began in August 2014 at Trinity College, Cambridge. The film had its world premiere as a gala presentation at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, and was selected as the opening gala of the 2015 Zurich Film Festival. It also played other film festivals including Singapore International Film Festival and Dubai International Film Festival.
Distinguished mathematicians Manjul Bhargava and Ken Ono are Associate Producers of the film. Ono, the mathematics consultant, is a Guggenheim Fellow, and Bhargava is a winner of the Fields Medal.
Next up, Ghostbusters, the all woman edition. While it hasn’t become the blockbuster some were hoping for, I have some hope that it will become a quiet blockbuster over time. As I wait there is this information about how Ghostbuster: The All Woman Edition was grounded in real science. From a July 18, 2016 news item on phys.org,
Janet Conrad and Lindley Winslow, colleagues in the MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] Department of Physics and researchers in MIT’s Lab for Nuclear Science, were key consultants for the all-female reboot of the classic 1984 supernatural comedy that is opening in theaters today. And the creative side of the STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—will be on full display.
Kristin Wiig’s character, Erin Gilbert, a no-nonsense physicist at Columbia University, is all the more convincing because of Conrad’s toys. Her office features demos and other actual trappings from Conrad’s workspace: books, posters, and scientific models. She even created detailed academic papers and grant applications for use as desk props.
“I loved the original ‘Ghostbusters,’” says Conrad. “And I thought the switch to four women, the girl-power concept, was a great way to change it up for the reboot. Plus I love all of the stuff in my office. I was happy to have my books become stars.”
Conrad developed an affection for MIT while absorbing another piece of pop culture: “Doonesbury.” She remembers one cartoon strip featuring a girl doing Psets. She is discouraged until a robot comes to her door and beeps. All is right with the world again. The exchange made an impression. “Only at MIT do robots come by your door to cheer you up,” she thought.
Like her colleague, Winslow describes mainstream role models as powerful, particularly when fantasy elements in film and television enhance their childhood appeal. She, too, loved “Ghostbusters” as a kid. “I watched the original many times,” she recalls. “And my sister had a stuffed Slimer.”
Winslow jokes that she “probably put in too much time” helping with the remake. Indeed, Wired magazine recently detailed that: “In one scene in the movie, Wiig’s Gilbert stands in front of a lecture hall, speaking on challenges of reconciling quantum mechanics with Einstein’s gravity. On the whiteboards, behind her, a series of equations tells the same story: a self-contained narrative, written by Winslow and later transcribed on set, illustrating the failure of a once-promising physics theory called SU(5).”
Movie reviewers have been floored by the level of set detail. Also deserving of serious credit is James Maxwell, a postdoc at the Lab for Nuclear Science during the period he worked on “Ghostbusters.” He is now a staff scientist at Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News, Virginia.
Maxwell crafted realistic schematics of how proton packs, ghost traps, and other paranormal equipment might work. “I recalled myself as a kid, poring over the technical schematics of X-wings and Star Destroyers. I wanted to be sure that boys and especially girls of today could pore over my schematics, plug the components into Wikipedia, and find out about real tools that experimental physicists use to study the workings of the universe.”
He too hopes this behind-the-scenes MIT link with a Hollywood blockbuster will get people thinking. “I hope that it shows a little bit of the giddy side of science and of MIT; the laughs that can come with a spectacular experimental failure or an unexpected break-through.”
The movie depicts the worlds of science and engineering, as drawn from MIT, with remarkable conviction, says Maxwell. “So much of the feel of the movie, and to a great degree the personalities of the characters, is conveyed by the props,” he says.
Kate McKinnon’s character, Jillian Holtzmann, an eccentric engineer, is nearly inseparable from, as Maxwell says, “a mess of wires and magnets and lasers” — a pile of equipment replicated from his MIT lab. When she talks proton packs, her lines are drawn from his work.
Keep an eye out for treasures hidden in the props. For instance, Wiig’s character is the recipient of the Maria Goeppert Mayer “MGM Award” from the American Physical Society, which hangs on her office wall. Conrad and Winslow say the honor holds a special place in their hearts.
“We both think MGM was inspirational. She did amazing things at a time when it was tough for women to do anything in physics,” says Conrad. “She is one of our favorite women in physics,” adds Winslow. Clearly, some of the film’s props and scientific details reflect their personal predilections but Hollywood — and the nation — is also getting a real taste of MIT.
Finally and strictly speaking not a movie but it is an online magazine about science-based movies according to David Bruggeman’s Aug. 6, 2016 posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog (Note: Links have been removed),
LaboCine is an online film magazine from the people behind Imagine Science Films. The films in each issue come from artists and scientists from around the world. They are not restricted to documentary films, and mix live-action, animated and computer film styles.
The first issue of LaboCine is now online, so you can view the short films, which are organized around a common theme. For August the theme is Model Organisms. …
The International Symposium on Electronic Arts (ISEA 2015) has come to town with some pre-events today, Aug. 13, 2015, opening tomorrow, Aug. 14, 2015 and finishing up on Aug. 19, 2015.
On the third day of the symposium, Sunday, Aug. 16, 2015, Raewyn Turner and I will be presenting Steep (1): a digital poetry of gold nanoparticles about which I’ve written in an April 24, 2015 posting,
Raewyn and I are working on a digital poetry installation. Here’s more about the project from the paper,
Steep is an international art/science research project examining the impact gold and gold nanoparticles have had in the past and could have in the future. Designed as a multi-year, multidisciplinary project with a rotating cast of collaborators, Steep is based on the current state of scientific research and its flexibility as a project reflects the uncertain and disruptive state of nanoscience and nanotechnology (as they are sometimes referred to).
Steep (I) a digital poetry of gold nanoparticles, our first piece, is largely concerned with the elements of air and earth or more fancifully, gold in all its forms: myth, metaphor, and reality as it transitions visibly and invisibly throughout our environment. …
You can get a sneak peek of our video, which is being premiered at the symposium, by going to the Projects webpage on Steep.nz.
It was quite the experience at BIL2015. Just the way I like it, loose and flexible. The speaker scheduled ahead of me was ill resulting in the emcee having to improvise (stretch for several minutes) so I could start on time. I had a nice audience although there was some yawning. Of course, my talk was scheduled so those of us who experience a down period in the afternoon might falter just at that time. I’ve been to enough to know that time period is difficult and to know the meeting people between the talks is what makes these things a rich experience. In fact, someone afterwards suggested I start a meetup group in Vancouver (Canada) to talk about nanotechnology. The idea is intriguing and I will check into it. In the meantime, if someone else wants to start nano meetup in Vancouver, you know there are at least two other people who are interested.
I did manage to catch the session on transformational festivals and, briefly, a talk about getting fit so you can be nude on the beach, as well as, a presentation on taking photographs of feral cats in cities around the world. To say the least, it was an eclectic and stimulating lineup.
In any event, BIL2015 is done and I congratulate the organizers on a fascinating lineup and experience.
I promised to post the presentation slidedeck and ith a few typos and a few added citations, here it is,
Thrillingly, I get to talk about one of my favourite topics, nanotechnology, to a live audience in BIL 2015’s eclectic conference this weekend in Vancouver (after TED2015 also being held, in Vancouver just prior from March 16 – 20, 2015). Before elaborating on my talk, here’s a bit more about BIL 2015 from a March 10, 2015 article by Stephen Hui for the Georgia Straight (Note: Links have been removed),
… BIL is a not-for-profit, participant-driven event that has taken place a few blocks away from the invitation-only TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference every year since 2008. Its name is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the 1989 film Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure starring Keanu Reeves.
According to BIL cofounder Michael Cummings, in contrast to TED, everyone is invited to attend and encouraged to contribute to the “unconference”. The freelance web developer, who lives in Austin, Texas, told the Straight this year’s event will feature two or three speaking areas, breakout sessions, live music, and healthy activities. Admission is by donation, and speakers’ time-slots will be determined at the event.
“Obviously, TED has moved around, and we’ve followed them to Vancouver,” Cummings said by phone from Los Angeles. “We’re not trying to be aggressive towards TED. We consider ourselves an auxiliary event. We encourage TED attendees to come to our event as well.”
… BIL 2015 will be held at the Imperial from March 21 to 22, with a pre-party on March 20. Last March, BIL 2014 drew about 400 people—including musician Amanda Palmer, author Neil Gaiman, and environmentalist Tzeporah Berman—to Five Sixty.
Here’s an excerpt from the list of speakers (Note 1: I’ve confirmed that all these speakers will be giving a presentation; Note 2: I have changed the formatting),
Eden Bernardy: The Actor’s Lens; the art and science of keeping an open mind
Explore the ideas and tools actors use to create authentic connections to characters with vastly differing points of view. This work keeps a person’s mind flexible and allows for extraordinary collaborations between individuals with drastically different view points. We are not a fixed set of ideas and intellectual constructs but rather a wonderfully mobile array of beliefs and ideas that shape our relationships, behavior, and thinking. Change your thinking, change your life. Understanding the “lens” through which we view the world gives us all the power to make profound shifts in our daily lives. Additionally, current research demonstrates that acting approaches that increase neural plasticity and cognitive flexibility are also known to increase “brain health” resulting in better memory, focus, mood management, and stress reduction.
Ava Vanderstarren & Fazineh Keita: Ending Child Soldiering and Finding Healing After War
Fazineh Keita and Ava Vanderstarren have started the non-profit Innocence Lost Foundation to build community and rehabilitation centres for child soldiers and youth in Africa.
They are about to launch their first project which is a community centre for Kabala, Sierra Leone that will provide a medical clinic, food, water, education, skills training, therapy, arts and sports programs to the community.
During their BIL talk Fazineh, who was a former child soldier, will share some of his stories and they will outline their plan to take action to end these issues in the world and to get help to the children and communitites that need healing.
They will cover a brief outline of their first project and how people can get involved in the mission.
Jeet-Kei Leung: How Transformational Festivals Just Might Help Save the World
Transformational Festivals are a burgeoning global movement, comprising over one million participants attending 160 transformational festivals on 6 continents. From Burning Man to Boom to Beloved, Lucidity, Lightning in a Bottle, Envision and many others, they are having profound life-altering effects for a new generation, while acting as massive incubators for the development of new paradigm culture. Directing and hosting The Bloom documentary mini-series over the past 3 years has allowed me to chronicle the emergence of this culture as a global phenomenon.
My talk focuses on 3 primary aspects of these Transformational Festivals: 1) How they are successful examples of large-scale collaboration, involving thousands of participants actively cooperating to create a desired reality; 2) How the resulting reality created supports personal growth and break-throughs, while simultaneously embodying the vision of a thriving, sustainable future; and 3) How participants are actively translating these profound temporary experiences into a large diversity of projects aimed at creating lasting social impact.
And of course, there’s me,
Maryse de la Giroday: Nanotechnology is the new black
The equivalent of a little black dress or a black shirt and pants ensemble, nanotechnology goes with anything such as robotics, artificial intelligence, regenerative medicine and tissue engineering, etc. Or, if you look at it another way, nanotechnology can help you to understand how chameleons change colour, how civil society groups influence technology adoption (e.g. Dunkin’ Donuts removing nano titanium dioxide from its powdered sugar), and how a ‘human-on-a-chip’ could replace at least some animal testing.
It also offers some fascinating stories. For example, the Canadian military commissioned a writer to produce a novel featuring nanotechnology in situations that could affect future military initiatives. (To my knowledge, the Canadian military is the only such organization to adopt this approach.) Meanwhile, major players such as the UK, China, the US, the European Union, and Japan and beginner to mid-size players such as Viet Nam, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Israel, the Netherlands, and Ireland (amongst others) provide fodder for some intriguing political machinations while engaging in all out competitions and collaborations to commercialize and exploit any nanotechnology advantages.
I’m scheduled for Sat., March 21, 2015 at 3:40 pm at BIL2015’s venue, The Imperial at 319 Main Street between Hastings St. and Cordova St. See ya there!
One of the most intriguing aspects of this assessment was the reliance on an unpublished inventory of Canadian science outreach initiatives (informal science education) that was commissioned by the Korean Foundation for the Advancement of Science and Creativity,
The system of organizations, programs, and initiatives that supports science culture in any country is dynamic. As a result, any inventory provides only a snapshot at a single point in time, and risks quickly becoming out of date. No sustained effort has been made to track public science outreach and engagement efforts in Canada at the national or regional level. Some of the Panel’s analysis relies on data from an unpublished inventory of public science communication initiatives in Canada undertaken in 2011 by Bernard Schiele, Anik Landry, and Alexandre Schiele for the Korean Foundation for the Advancement of Science and Creativity (Schiele et al., 2011). This inventory identified over 700 programs and organizations across all provinces and regions in Canada, including over 400 initiatives related to museums, science centres, zoos, or aquariums; 64 associations or NGOs involved in public science outreach; 49 educational initiatives; 60 government policies and programs; and 27 media programs. (An update of this inventory completed by the Panel brings the total closer to 800 programs.) The inventory is used throughout the chapter [chapter five] to characterize different components of the Canadian system supporting public science outreach, communication, and engagement. (p. 130 PDF; p. 98 print)
I’m fascinated by the Korean interest and wonder if this due to perceived excellence or to budgetary considerations. The cynic in me suspects the Korean foundation was interested in the US scene but decided that information from the Canadian scene would be cheaper to acquire and the data could be extrapolated to give a perspective on the US scene.
In addition to the usual suspects (newspapers, television, radio, science centres, etc.), the Expert Panel did recognize the importance of online science sources (they would have looked foolish if they hadn’t),
Canadians are increasingly using the internet to seek out information relating to science. This activity can take the form of generalized searches about science-related issues or more targeted forms of information acquisition. For example, Canadians report using the internet to seek out information on health and medical issues an average of 47 times a year, or nearly every week. Other forms of online exposure to scientific content also appear to be common. For example, 46% of Canadians report having read a blog post or listserv related to science and technology at least once in the last three months, and 62% having watched an online video related to science and technology.
An increasing reliance on the internet as the main source of information about science and technology is consistent with the evolution of the media environment, as well as with survey data from other countries. Based on the Panel’s survey, 17% of Canadians, for example, report reading a printed newspaper daily, while 40% report reading about the news or current events online every day. (p. 13/2 PDF; p. 100/1 print)
In common with the rest of the world, Canadians are producing and enjoying science festivals,
In Canada there are two established, large-scale science festivals. Science Rendezvous [founded in 2008 as per its Wikipedia entry] takes place in about 20 cities across the country and combines a variety of programming to comprise a day-long free event (Science Rendezvous, 2013).
The annual Eureka! Festival in Montréal (see Figure 5.6 [founded in 2007 as per its program list]) has over 100 activities over three days; it attracted over 68,000 attendees in 2012 (Eureka! Festival, 2013). More science festivals have recently been created. The University of Toronto launched the Toronto Science Festival in fall 2013 (UofT, 2013), and Beakerhead, a new festival described as a “collision of art and culture, technology, and engineering,” was launched in 2013 in Calgary (Beakerhead, 2013). Two Canadian cities have also recently won bids to host STEMfest (Saskatoon in 2015 and Halifax in 2018), an international festival of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (Global STEM States, 2014). (pp. 145/6 PDF; pp. 113/4 PDF)
The assessment notes have a grand total of five radio and television programmes devoted to science: The Nature of Things, Daily Planet, Quirks and Quarks, Découverte, and Les années lumière (p. 150 PDF; p. 118 print) and a dearth of science journalism,
Dedicated science coverage is notably absent from the majority of newspapers and other print journalism in Canada. As shown in Table 5.3, none of the top 11 newspapers by weekly readership in Canada has a dedicated science section, including nationals such as The Globe and Mail and National Post. Nine of these newspapers have dedicated technology sections, which sometimes contain sub-sections with broader coverage of science or environment stories; however, story coverage tends to be dominated by technology or business (or gaming) stories. Few Canadian newspapers have dedicated science journalists on staff, and The Globe and Mail is unique among Canadian papers in having a science reporter, a medicine and health reporter, and a technology reporter. (p. 152 PDF; p. 120 print)
Not stated explicitly in the assessment is this: those science and technology stories you see in the newspaper are syndicated stories, i.e., written by reporters for the Associated Press, Reuters, and other international press organizations or simply reprinted (with credit) from another newspaper.
The report does cover science blogging with this,
Science blogs are another potential source of information about developments in science and technology. A database compiled by the Canadian Science Writers’ Association, as of March of 2013, lists 143 Canadian science blogs, covering all areas of science and other aspects of science such as science policy and science culture (CSWA, 2013). Some blogs are individually authored and administered, while others are affiliated with larger networks or other organizations (e.g., Agence Science-Presse, PLOS Blogs). Canadian science blogger Maryse de la Giroday has also published an annual round-up of Canadian science blogs on her blog (www.frogheart.ca) for the past three years, and a new aggregator of Canadian science blogs was launched in 2013 (www.scienceborealis.ca). [emphases mine]
Data from the Panel’s survey suggest that blogs are becoming a more prominent source of information about science and technology for the general public. As noted at the beginning of the chapter, 46% of Canadians report having read a blog post about science or technology at least once in the past three months. Blogs are also influencing the way that scientific research is carried out and disseminated. A technical critique in a blog post by Canadian microbiologist Rosie Redfield in 2010, for example, catalyzed a widely publicized debate on the validity of a study published in Science, exploring the ability of bacteria to incorporate arsenic into their DNA. The incident demonstrated the potential impact of blogs on mainstream scientific research. CBC highlighted the episode as the Canadian science story of the year (Strauss, 2011), and Nature magazine identified Redfield as one of its 10 newsmakers of the year in 2011 as a result of her efforts to replicate the initial study and publicly document her progress and results (Hayden, 2011).
The impact of online information sources, however, is not limited to blogs, with 42% of Canadians reporting having heard about a science and technology news story though social media sources like Twitter and Facebook in the last three months. And, as noted earlier, the internet is often used to search for information about specific science and technology topics, both for general issues such as climate change, and more personalized information on medical and health issues.(pp. 153/4 PDF; pp. 121/2 print)
Yes, I got a shout out as did Rosie Redfield. We were the only two science bloggers namechecked. (Years ago, the Guardian newspaper was developing a science blog network and the editor claimed he couldn’t find many female science bloggers after fierce criticism of its first list of bloggers. This was immediately repudiated not only by individuals but someone compiled a list of hundreds of female science bloggers.) Still, the perception persists and I’m thrilled that the panel struck out in a different direction. I was also pleased to see Science Borealis (a Canadian science blog aggregator) mentioned. Having been involved with its founding, I’m also delighted its first anniversary was celebrated in Nov. 2014.
I doubt many people know we have a science press organization in Canada, Agence Science-Presse, but perhaps this mention in the assessment will help raise awareness in Canada’s English language media,
Founded in 1978 with the motto Parce que tout le monde s’intéresse à la science (“because everyone is interested in science”), Agence Science-Presse is a not-for-profit organization in Quebec that supports media coverage of science by distributing articles on scientific research or other topical science and technology issues to media outlets in Canada and abroad. The organization also supports science promotion activities aimed at youth. For example, it currently edits and maintains an aggregation of blogs designed for young science enthusiasts and science journalists (Blogue ta science). (p. 154 PDF; p. 122)
The final chapter (the 6th) of the assessment makes five key recommendations for ‘Cultivating a strong science culture’:
Support lifelong science learning
Make science inclusive
Adapt to new technologies
Enhance science communication and engagement
Provide national or regional leadership
Presumably the agriculture reference in the chapter title is tongue-in-cheek. Assuming that’s not one of my fantasies, it’s good to see a little humour.
On to the first recommendation, lifelong learning,
… Science centres and museums, science programs on radio and television, science magazines and journalism, and online resources can all help fulfil this function by providing accessible resources for adult science learning, and by anticipating emerging information needs based on topical issues.
Most informal science learning organizations already provide these opportunities to varying degrees; however, this conception of the relative roles of informal and formal science learning providers differs from the traditional understanding, which often emphasizes how informal environments can foster engagement in science (particularly among youth), thereby triggering additional interest and the later acquisition of knowledge (Miller, 2010b). [emphasis mine] Such a focus may be appropriate for youth programming, but neglects the role that these institutions can play in ongoing education for adults, who often seek out information on science based on specific, well-defined interests or needs (e.g., a medical diagnosis, a newspaper article on the threat of a viral pandemic, a new technology brought into the workplace) (Miller, 2012). [emphases mine] Informal science learning providers can take advantage of such opportunities by anticipating these needs, providing useful and accessible information, and then simultaneously building and deepening knowledge of the underlying science through additional content.
I’m glad to see the interest in adult informal science education although the emphasis on health/medical and workplace technology issues suggests the panel underestimates, despite the data from its own survey, Canadians’ curiosity about and interest in science and technology. The panel also underestimates the tenacity with which many gatekeepers hold to the belief that no one is interested in science. It took me two years before a local organizer would talk to me about including one science-themed meeting in his programme (the final paragraph in my April 14, 2014 post describes some of the process and my April 18, 2014 post describes the somewhat disappointing outcome). In the end, it was great to see a science-themed ‘city conversation’ but I don’t believe the organizer found it to be a success, which means it’s likely to be a long time before there’s another one.
The next recommendation, ‘Making science inclusive’, is something that I think needs better practice. If one is going to be the change one wants to see that means getting people onto your expert panels that reflect your inclusiveness and explaining to your audience how your expert panel is inclusive.
The ‘Adapting to new technologies’ recommendation is where I expected to see some mention of the social impact of such emerging technologies as robotics, nanotechnology, synthetic biology, etc. That wasn’t the case,
Science culture in Canada and other countries is now evolving in a rapidly changing technological environment. Individuals are increasingly turning to online sources for information about science and technology, and science communicators and the media are also adapting to the new channels of communication and outreach provided over the internet. As people engage more with new forms of technology in their home and work lives, organizations may be able to identify new ways to take advantage of available technologies to support learning and foster science interest and engagement. At the same time, as noted in Chapter 2, this transition is also challenging traditional models of operation for many organizations such as science centres, museums, and science media providers, forcing them to develop new strategies.
Examples of the use of new technologies to support learning are now commonplace. Nesta, an innovation-oriented organization based in the United Kingdom, conducted a study investigating the extent to which new technologies are transforming learning among students (Luckin et al., 2012) (p. 185 PDF; p. 153 print)
Admittedly, the panel was not charged with looking too far into the future but it does seem odd that in a science culture report there isn’t much mention (other than a cursory comment in an early chapter) of these emerging technologies and the major changes they are bringing with them. If nothing else, the panel might have wanted to make mention of artificial intelligence how the increasing role of automated systems may be affecting science culture in Canada. For example, in my July 16, 2014 post I made described a deal Associated Press (AP) signed with a company that automates the process of writing sports and business stories. You may well have read a business story (AP contracted for business stories) written by an artificial intelligence system or, if you prefer the term, an algorithm.
The recommendation for ‘Enhancing science communication and engagement’ is where I believe the Expert Panel should be offered a bouquet,
… Given the significance of government science in many areas of research, government science communication constitutes an important vector for increasing public awareness and understanding about science. In Canada current policies governing how scientists working in federal departments and agencies are allowed to interact with the media and the public have come under heavy criticism in recent years …
Concerns about the federal government’s current policies on government scientists’ communication with the media have been widely reported in Canadian and international
press in recent years (e.g., Ghosh, 2012; CBC, 2013c; Gatehouse, 2013; Hume, 2013; Mancini, 2013; Munro, 2013). These concerns were also recently voiced by the editorial board of Nature (2012), which unfavourably compared Canada’s current approach with the more open policies now in place in the United States. Scientists at many U.S. federal agencies are free to speak to the media without prior departmental approval, and to
express their personal views as long as they clearly state that they are not speaking on behalf of the government. In response to such concerns, and to a formal complaint filed by the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Victoria and Democracy Watch, on April 2, 2013 Canada’s Information Commissioner launched an investigation into whether current policies and policy instruments in seven federal departments and agencies are “restricting or prohibiting government scientists from speaking with or sharing research with the media and the Canadian public” (OICC, 2013).
Since these concerns have come to light, many current and former government scientists have discussed how these policies have affected their interactions with the media. Marley Waiser, a former scientist with Environment Canada, has spoken about how that department’s policies prevented her from discussing her research on chemical pollutants in Wascana Creek near Regina (CBC, 2013c). Dr. Kristi Miller, a geneticist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, was reportedly prevented from speaking publicly about a study she published in Science, which investigated whether a viral infection might be the cause of declines in Sockeye salmon stocks in the Fraser River (Munro, 2011).
According to data from Statistics Canada (2012), nearly 20,000 science and technology professionals work for the federal government. The ability of these researchers to communicate with the media and the Canadian public has a clear bearing on Canada’s science culture. Properly supported, government scientists can serve as a useful conduit for informing the public about their scientific work, and engaging the public in discussions about the social relevance of their research; however, the concerns reported above raise questions about the extent to which current federal policies in Canada are limiting these opportunities for public communication and engagement. (pp. 190/1 PDF; p. 158/9 print)
Kudos for including the information and for this passage as well,
Many organizations including science centres and museums, research centres, and even governments may be perceived as having a science promotion agenda that portrays only the benefits of science. As a result, these organizations are not always seen as promoters of debate through questioning, which is a crucial part of the scientific process. Acknowledging complexity and controversy is another means to improve the quality of public engagement in science in a range of different contexts. (p. 195 PDF; p. 163 print)
One last happy note, which is about integrating the arts and design into the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics communities),
Linking Science to the Arts and Design U.S. advocates for “STEM to STEAM” call for an incorporation of the arts in discussions of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in an effort to “achieve a synergistic balance” (Piro, 2010). They cite positive outcomes such as cognitive development, reasoning skills, and concentration abilities. Piro (2010) argues that “if creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking — all touted as hallmark skills for 21st-century success — are to be cultivated, we need to ensure that STEM subjects are drawn closer to the arts.” Such approaches offer new techniques to engage both student and adult audiences in science learning and engagement opportunities.
What I find fascinating about this STEM to STEAM movement is that many of these folks don’t seem to realize is that until fairly recently the arts and sciences recently have always been closely allied. James Clerk Maxwell was also a poet, not uncommon amongst 19th century scientists.
In Canada one example of this approach is found in the work of Michael R. Hayden, who has conducted extensive genetic research on Huntington disease. In the lead-up to the 2000 Human Genome Project World Conference, Hayden commissioned Vancouver’s Electric Company Theatre to fuse “the spheres of science and art in a play that explored the implications of the revolutionary technology of the Human Genome Project” (ECT, n.d.). This play, The Score, was later adapted into a film. Hayden believes that his play “transforms the scientific ideas explored in the world of the laboratory into universal themes of human identity, freedom and creativity, and opens up a door for a discussion between the scientific community and the public in general” (Genome Canada, 2006). (p. 196 PDF; p. 164 print)
I’m not sure why the last recommendation presents an either/or choice, ‘Providing national or regional leadership’, while the following content suggests a much more fluid state,
… it should be recognized that establishing a national or regional vision for science culture is not solely the prerogative of government. Such a vision requires broad support and participation from the community of affected stakeholders to be effective, and can also emerge from that community in the absence of a strong governmental role.
The final chapter (the seventh) restates the points the panel has made throughout its report. Unexpectedly, part 2 got bigger, ’nuff said.
Losing over 2000 words, i.e., part 2 of this commentary on the Science Culture: Where Canada Stands assessment by the Council of Canadian Academies (CAC) on New Year’s Eve 2014 was a bit of blow. So, here’s my attempt at reconstructing my much mourned part 2.
There was acknowledgement of Canada as a Arctic country and an acknowledgement of this country’s an extraordinary geographical relationship to the world’s marine environment,
Canada’s status as an Arctic nation also has a bearing on science and science culture. Canada’s large and ecologically diverse Arctic landscape spans a substantial part of the circumpolar Arctic, and comprises almost 40% of the country’s landmass (Statistics Canada, 2009). This has influenced the development of Canadian culture more broadly, and also created opportunities in the advancement of Arctic science. Canada’s northern inhabitants, the majority of whom are Indigenous peoples, represent a source of knowledge that contributes to scientific research in the North (CCA, 2008).
These characteristics have contributed to the exploration of many scientific questions including those related to environmental science, resource development, and the health and well-being of northern populations. Canada also has the longest coastline of any country, and these extensive coastlines and marine areas give rise to unique research opportunities in ocean science (CCA, 2013a). (p. 55 PDF; p. 23 print)
Canada’s aging population is acknowledged in a backhand way,
Like most developed countries, Canada’s population is also aging. In 2011 the median age in Canada was 39.9 years, up from 26.2 years in 1971 (Statistics Canada, n.d.). This ongoing demographic transition will have an impact on science culture in Canada in years to come. An aging population will be increasingly interested in health and medical issues. The ability to make use of this kind of information will depend in large part on the combination of access to the internet, skill in navigating it, and a conceptual toolbox that includes an understanding of genes, probability, and related constructs (Miller, 2010b). (p. 56 PDF; p. 24 print)
Yes, the only science topics of interest for an old person are health and medicine. Couldn’t they have included one sentence suggesting an aging population’s other interests and other possible impacts on science culture?
On the plus side, the report offers a list of selected Canadian science culture milestones,
• 1882 – Royal Society of Canada is established.
• 1916 – National Research Council is established.
• 1923 – Association canadienne-française pour l’avancement des sciences (ACFAS) is established.
• 1930 – Canadian Geographic is first published by the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.
• 1951 – Massey–Lévesque Commission calls for the creation of a national science and technology museum.
• 1959 – Canada sees its first science fairs in Winnipeg, Edmonton, Hamilton, Toronto, Montréal, and Vancouver; volunteer coordination eventually grows into Youth Science Canada.
• 1960 – CBC’s Nature of Things debuts on television; Fernand Séguin hosts “Aux frontières de la science.”
• 1962 – ACFAS creates Le Jeune scientifique, which becomes Québec Science in 1970.
• 1966 – Science Council of Canada is created to advise Parliament on science and technology issues.
• 1967 – Canada Museum of Science and Technology is created.
• 1969 – Ontario Science Centre opens its doors (the Exploratorium in San Francisco opens the same year).
• 1971 – Canadian Science Writers’ Association is formed.
• 1975 – Symons Royal Commission on Canadian Studies speaks to how understanding the role of science in society is important to understanding Canadian culture and identity.
• 1975 – Quirks and Quarks debuts on CBC Radio.
• 1976 – OWL children’s magazine begins publication.
• 1977 – Association des communicateurs scientifiques du Québec is established.
• 1978 – L’Agence Science-Presse is created.
• 1981 – Association des communicateurs scientifiques creates the Fernand-Séguin scholarship to identify promising young science journalists.
• 1982 – Les Débrouillards is launched in Quebec. (p. 58 PDF; p. 26 print)
The list spills onto the next page and into the 2000’s.
It’s a relief to see the Expert Panel give a measured response to the claims made about science culture and its various impacts, especially on the economy (in my book, some of the claims have bordered on hysteria),
The Panel found little definitive empirical evidence of causal relationships between the dimensions of science culture and higher-level social objectives like stronger economic performance or more effective public policies. As is the case with much social science research, isolating the impacts of a single variable on complex social phenomena is methodologically challenging, and few studies have attempted to establish such relationships in any detail. As noted in 1985 by the Bodmer report (a still-influential report on public understanding of science in the United Kingdom), although there is good reason prima facie to believe that improving public understanding of science has national economic benefits, empirical proof for such a link is often elusive (RS & Bodmer, 1985). This remains the case today. Nevertheless, many pieces of evidence suggest why a modern, industrialized society should cultivate a strong science culture. Literature from the domains of cognitive science, sociology, cultural studies, economics, innovation, political science, and public policy provides relevant insights. (p. 63 PDF; p. 31 print)
Intriguingly, while the panel has made extensive use of social science methods for this assessment there are some assumptions made about skill sets required for the future,
Technological innovation depends on the presence of science and technology skills in the workforce. While at one point it may have been possible for relatively low-skilled individuals to substantively contribute to technological development, in the 21st century this is no longer the case. [emphasis mine] Advanced science and technology skills are now a prerequisite for most types of technological innovation. (p. 72 PDF; p. 40 print)
Really, it’s no longer possible for relatively low-skilled individuals to contribute to technological development? Maybe the expert panel missed this bit in my March 27, 2013 post,
Getting back to Bittel’s Slate article, he mentions Foldit (here’s my first piece in an Aug. 6, 2010 posting [scroll down about 1/2 way]), a protein-folding game which has generated some very exciting science. He also notes some of that science was generated by older, ‘uneducated’ women. Bittel linked to Jeff Howe’s Feb. 27, 2012 article about Foldit and other crowdsourced science projects for Slate where I found this very intriguing bit,
“You’d think a Ph.D. in biochemistry would be very good at designing protein molecules,” says Zoran Popović, the University of Washington game designer behind Foldit. Not so. “Biochemists are good at other things. But Foldit requires a narrow, deeper expertise.”
Or as it turns out, more than one. Some gamers have a preternatural ability to recognize patterns, an innate form of spatial reasoning most of us lack. Others—often “grandmothers without a high school education,” says Popovic—exercise a particular social skill. “They’re good at getting people unstuck. They get them to approach the problem differently.” What big pharmaceutical company would have anticipated the need to hire uneducated grandmothers? (I know a few, if Eli Lilly HR is thinking of rejiggering its recruitment strategy.) [emphases mine]
It’s not the idea that technical and scientific skills are needed that concerns me; it’s the report’s hard line about ‘low skills’ (which is a term that is not defined). In addition to the notion that future jobs require only individuals with ‘high level’ skills; there’s the notion (not mentioned in this report but gaining general acceptance in the media) that we shouldn’t ever have to perform repetitive and boring activities. It’s a notion which completely ignores a certain aspect of the learning process. Very young children repeat over and over and over and over … . Apprenticeships in many skills-based crafts were designed with years of boring, repetitive work as part of the training. It seems counter-intuitive but boring, repetitive activities can lead to very high level skills such as the ability to ‘unstick’ a problem for an expert with a PhD in biochemistry.
Back to the assessment, the panel commissioned a survey, conducted in 2013, to gather data about science culture in Canada,
The Panel’s survey of Canadian science culture, designed to be comparable to surveys undertaken in other countries as well as to the 1989 Canadian survey, assessed public attitudes towards science and technology, levels and modes of public engagement in science, and public science knowledge or understanding. (The evidence reported in this chapter on the fourth dimension, science and technology skills, is drawn from other sources such as Statistics Canada and the OECD).
Conducted in April 2013, the survey relied on a combination of landline and mobile phone respondents (60%) and internet respondents (40%), randomly recruited from the general population. In analyzing the results, responses to the survey were weighted based on Statistics Canada data according to region, age, education, and gender to ensure that the sample was representative of the Canadian public. 7 A total of 2,004 survey responses were received, with regional breakdowns presented in Table 4.1. At a national level, survey results are accurate within a range of plus or minus 2.2% 19 times out of 20 (i.e., at the 95% confidence interval), and margins of error for regional results range from 3.8% to 7.1%). Three open-ended questions were also included in the survey, which were coded using protocols previously applied to these questions in other international surveys. 8 All open-ended questions were coded independently by at least three bilingual coders, and any discrepancies in coding were settled through a review by a fourth coder. (p. 79 PDF; p. 47 print)
The infographic’s data in part 1 of this commentary, What Do Canadians Think About Science and Technology (S&T)? is based on the survey and other statistical information included in the report especially Chapter four focused on measurements (pp. 77 – 127 PDF; pp. 45 – 95 print). While the survey presents a somewhat rosier picture of the Canadian science culture than the one I experience on a daily basis, the data seems to have been gathered in a thoughtful fashion. Regardless of the assessment’s findings and my opinions, how Canadians view science became a matter of passionate debate in the Canadian science blogging community (at least parts of it) in late 2014 as per a Dec. 3, 2014 posting by the Science Borealis team on their eponymous blog (Note: Links have been removed),
The CBC’s Rick Mercer is a staunch science advocate, and his November 19th rant was no exception. He addressed the state of basic science in Canada, saying that Canadians are “passionate and curious about science.”
In response, scientist David Kent wrote a post on the Black Hole Blog in which he disagreed with Mercer, saying, “I do not believe Mr. Mercer’s idea that Canadians as a whole are interested although I, like him, would wish it to be the case.”
Kent’s post has generated some fierce discussion, both in the comments on his original post and in the comments on a Facebook post by Evidence for Democracy.
Here at Science Borealis, we rely on a keen and enthusiastic public to engage with the broad range of science-based work our bloggers share, so we decided to address some of the arguments Kent presented in his post.
Anecdotal evidence versus data
Kent says “Mr. Mercer’s claims about Canadians’ passions are anecdotal at best, and lack any evidence – indeed it is possible that Canadians don’t give a hoot about science for science’s sake.”
Unfortunately, Kent’s own argument is based on anecdotal evidence (“To me it appears that… the average Canadian adult does not particularly care about how or why something works.”).
If you’re looking for data, they’re available in a recent Council of Canadian Academies report that specifically studied science culture in Canada. Results show that Canadians are very interested in science.
I promised disturbing statistics in the head for this posting and here they are in the second paragraph,
Canadian students perform well in PISA [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)] , with relatively high scores on all three of the major components of the assessment (reading, science, and mathematics) compared with students in other countries (Table 4.4). In 2012 only seven countries or regions had mean scores on the science assessment higher than Canada on a statistically significant basis: Shanghai–China, Hong Kong–China, Singapore, Japan, Finland, Estonia, and Korea (Brochu et al., 2013). A similar pattern holds for mathematics scores, where nine countries had mean scores higher than Canada on a statistically significant basis: Shanghai–China, Singapore, Hong Kong–China, Chinese Taipei, Korea, Macao–China, Japan, Lichtenstein, and Switzerland (Brochu et al., 2013). Regions scoring higher than Canada are concentrated in East Asia, and tend to be densely populated, urban areas. Among G8 countries, Canada ranks second on mean science and mathematics scores, behind Japan.
However, the 2012 PISA results also show statistically significant declines in Canada’s scores on both the mathematics and science components. Canada’s science score declined by nine points from its peak in 2006 (with a fall in ranking from 3rd to 10th), and the math score declined by 14 points since first assessed in 2003 (a fall from 7th to 13th) (Brochu et al., 2013). Changes in Canada’s standing relative to other countries reflect both the addition of new countries or regions over time (i.e., the addition of regions such as Hong Kong–China and Chinese Taipei in 2006, and of Shanghai–China in 2009) and statistically significant declines in mean scores.
My Oct. 9, 2013 post discusses the scores in more detail and as the Expert Panel notes, the drop is disconcerting and disturbing. Hopefully, it doesn’t indicate a trend.
Anne Dijkstra’s presentation (at the 2012 S.NET [Society for the Study of Nanoscience and Emerging Technologies] conference on “Science Cafés and scientific citizens. The Nanotrail project as a case” provided a contrast to the local (Vancouver, Canada) science café scene I wasn’t expecting. The Dutch science cafés Dijkstra described were formal both in tone and organization. She featured five science cafés focussed on discussions of nanotechnology. The most striking image in Dijkstra’s presentation was of someone taking notes at one of the meetings. By contrast, the Vancouver café scientifique get togethers take place in a local bar/pub (The Railway Club) and are organized by members of the local science community. (There are some life science café scientifique Vancouver meetings which may be more formal as they take place at the University of British Columbia.)
I was quite fascinated to hear about the Dutch children’s science cafés that have been organized by the parents featuring presentations by children to their peers. It’s a grassroots effort/community-based initiative.
The next and final presentation set was when I presented my work on ‘Zombies, brains, collapsing boundaries, and entanglements’. (People at the conference kept laughing when I told them when my presentation was scheduled.) Briefly, my area of interest is in neuromorphic engineering (artificial brains), memristors and other devices which can mimic synaptic plasticity, pop culture (zombies), and something I’ve termed ‘cognitive entanglement’. My basic question is: what does it mean to be human at a time when notions about what constitutes life and nonlife are being obliterated? In addition, although I didn’t do this deliberately, this passage from my Oct. 31, 2012 posting (Part 1 of this series) touches on a related issue,
His [Chris Groves’ plenary] quote from Hannah Arendt, “What we make remakes us” brought home the notion that there is a feedback loop and that science and invention are not unidirectional pursuits, i.e., we do not create the world and stand apart from it; the world we create, in turn, recreates us.
I have more about this ‘conversation’ regarding artificial brains taking place in business, pop culture, philosophy, advertising, science, engineering, and elsewhere but I think I need to write up a paper. Once I do that I”ll post it. As for the response from the conference goers, there were no questions but there were a few comments (I’m not the only one interested in zombies and the living dead) and a suggestion to me for further reading (Andrew Pickering, The cybernetic brain: sketches of another future).
Later this week (March 15, 2012), I will be giving a talk in Vancouver,
The Canadian Academy of Independent Scholars
Notice of Meeting
Date: Thursday, March 15, 2012
Time: 7:30 pm
Place: Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, BC campus, 515 West Hastings Street (between Seymour and Richards Streets) in the Diamond Alumni Lounge, Room 2065 (second floor)
Speaker: Maryse de la Giroday
Topic: Whose electric brain?
Memristors are collapsing the boundaries between humans and machines and ushering in an age where humanistic discourse must grapple with cognitive entanglements. Perceptible only at the level of molecular electronics (nanoelectronics), the memristor was a theoretical concept until 2008. Two different researchers without knowledge of each other had postulated its probable existence respectively in the 1960s and the 1970s. Traditionally in electrical engineering there are resistors, inductors, and capacitors. The new circuit element, the memristor, was postulated to account for anomalies that had been experienced and described in the literature since the 1950s.
Conceptually, a memristor remembers how much and when current has been flowing. In 2008 when it was proved experimentally, engineering control was achieved months later in both digital and analogue formats. The more intriguing of the two formats is the analogue where a memristor is capable of an in-between state similar to certain brain states as opposed to the digital format where it’s either on or off. As some have described it, the memristor is a synapse on a chip making neural computing a reality. In other words, with post-human engineering we will have machines that can think like humans.
The memristor moves us past Jacques Derrida’s notion of undecidability (a cognitive entanglement) as largely theoretical to a world where we confront this reality on a daily basis.
A Brief Bio:
Maryse de la Giroday is a science communications consultant and writer who focuses on nanotechnology and science in Canada. Her blog (www.frogheart.ca) offers “Commentary about nanotech, science policy and communication, society, and the arts” and it currently enjoys an average of 50,000+ visits per month.
She has a BA (honors-Communications) from SFU and an MA (Creative Writing and New Media) De Montfort University, UK.
As an independent academic, she has presented on the topic of nanotechnology at the 2009 International Symposium on Electronic Arts, the 2008 Congress of Humanities and the Social Sciences, the 2008 Cascadia Nanotechnology Symposium, and the 2007 Association of Internet Researchers.
She gratefully acknowledge the 2011 grant from the Canadian Academy of Independent Scholars which makes the publication of her latest paper, Whose electric brain? possible.
I expect to be exploring ideas about machines and humans as buttressed by the notion of the memristor. The talk will be recorded (tarted up/edited) by Sama Shodjai and posted, in the near future, here and elsewhere online.
ISEA (International Symposium on Electronic Arts) 2011 is being held in Istanbul, Turkey from Sept. 14-21, 2011. I submitted a proposal for a paper which was accepted and I have been included in the Biosynthetics and Body – Machine Presentation (from the presentation webpage),
Art and Life: Biocybrid systems and the reengineering of reality by Diana Domingues, Adson Ferreira da Rocha, and Cristiano Jacques Miosso/ ColourBlind by Alan Dunning and Paul Woodrow/ Morphogenesis by Christophe Viau/ Whose electric brain by Maryse Simone de la Giroday/ Fish and Chips, MEART and Silent Barrage, pioneering cybernetic organisms from the SymbioticA research Group by Stuart Bunt
I’m very excited about the conference and it overlaps with the 12th Istanbul Biennial, which runs from Sept. 17 – Nov. 13, 2011. My fellow presenters are quite exciting too. I’ve looked up each presenter and linked to information about them and/or their work.
Diana Domingues exhibition website providing some biographical info. in English.
SymbioticA (Stuart Blunt) laboratory webpage and newsletter description of Stuart Blunt’s career at the University of Western Australia and his role at SymbioticA.
It’s an eclectic group of artists, engineers, a neuroscientist, and me (a writer). I’d love to attend although it seems unlikely. If you have any ideas for creative (or not) fundraising for an independent scholar scheduled for a Sept. 19, 2011 presentation at ISEA 2011, I’d love to hear them.
In the meantime, here’s a link to a lengthy (34 mins.) conversation between the two curators (Jens Hoffman and Adriano Pedrosa) selected for the 12th Istanbul Biennial.